In this artcile, returning Label volunteer Leah Langley outlines Marcus Rashford’s campaign and analyses the impact of the free school meal scheme.
Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England striker, made headlines earlier this year, but not for the reasons that you might expect. Rashford spearheaded a campaign that led to the government changing their policy to allow 1.3 million children, in England, who are in receipt of free school meal vouchers to be able to claim them during the summer holidays. The campaign picked up much attention after it was revealed, by The Food Foundation, that nearly 200,000 children had, had to skip meals by the end of April, and around 31% of children who were entitled to free school meals did not have alternatives that were adequate. The sharp acceleration in the statistics related to child hunger came as a result of schools being forced to close in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rashford began a campaign to ensure that children would not be left to go hungry during the summer holidays and this ultimately saw the government provide £210 billion for the provision of food vouchers over the six-week summer holidays. The scheme cost around £126 million and was a saving grace for many families across the country.
Labour had made a bid to extend free school meals across the nation beyond term time until Easter 2021, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have done, but this was rejected by the government who claimed that “it has already introduced more effective measures to support families.” Councils have reportedly been given £63 million for families that have been left facing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, along with a £9.3 billion increase in welfare support. Conservative MPs rejected the motion made by Labour by 322 votes to 261, however, many Labour and Conservative councils have since agreed to supply pupils with meal vouchers.
The motion had called for: free school meals to be expanded out to an extra 1.5 million children, by including households in receipt of universal credit or its equivalent, making an additional 1.1 million children eligible for holiday activity and food programmes, and allowing more generosity with meal vouchers for pregnant women and parents of young children. The rejection of the motion was met with outrage by Rashford himself and some of his very angry twitter followers. The striker tweeted his dismay for the refute of the proposal and pub, restaurant, and café owners were quick to tweet their support of the initiative with many offering their own version of free meals for those in need.
Following the defeat, the government stated that “all measures would be kept under review.”
Header by Christos Alamaniotis – Deputy Head of Design
Edited by Izzie Naish – News Editor